Nexus File Photo

Sophomore Amadou Sow is leading the early-season blitz for the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team, who have now won three straight games, including a prime-time showdown against division leader UC Irvine. 

Just prior to Irvine, the Gauchos also took down second-place Hawai’i, 76-66. Sow shot 12-13 from the floor for a career-high 30 points and was destructive for a defense that has been leaking all season, despite the Rainbow Warriors’ comfortable 5-3 position in the conference standings. 

Had Head Coach Joe Pasternack’s squad not shot 3-14 from deep, the score could have been much different. It was all-hands-on-deck for a Gaucho team that played composed and together. If they can manage to sustain their run to form, UCSB will look ready to roll as a team capable of dominating in the paint, shooting from the floor and making free throws. 

UCSB shot 15-16 at the line against Hawai’i and another 21-25 when Irvine came into town. That’s a lot of free throws. A lot of small little tests on the brain in addition to what’s being done on the court. 

An area that was once more of a hindrance is now a reflection of UCSB’s new mentality as a conference force. They started by getting their collective shot together, another area that fueled their three-game losing streak. 

They handled injuries well, and JaQuori McLaughlin has managed to get back on track in recent games. It’s especially positive considering the team has rattled off three big wins in that time. 

After that, there has been evidence of an obvious improvement in the Gauchos from the line. They’ve shot 88.43% over the past three games after having managed a 72.6% showing over the previous five games, a stretch that saw them go 1-4. 

They’ve been one of the better teams in the paint but have come together to produce some marvelous displays, with a special note to Sow’s 15/14/1 line in the last match against Long Beach State. 

Of the 14 boards, 7 were offensive and 7 were defensive. 

Matt Freeman also put up 24 points in that game and shot 6-7 from deep. 

Now 7-2 in conference, UC Irvine made the drive to the Thunderdome where UCSB proved victorious by 64-61 on the back of Sow’s 21-point double-double.

McLaughlin chipped in his best performance since the nudge in practice, scoring 11/3/2 with a 7-8 showing from the line.

Irvine finished as the game leader in rebounds by 36-28, but Sow was dominant and led both teams with 10 as the only member of the double-figures club. 

The story has been very much about Sow and that’s because he’s coming into his own in a team that’s clicking on both sides of the floor. 

The Anteaters have a two-game lead on Hawai’i who sit with a game in hand against UCSB and CSUN, who are deadlocked at 5-4 for third place. 

Despite having already swept the Gauchos this season, the Matadors have paired big victories with subpar performances and find themselves alongside UCSB in the standings.

The Gauchos, meanwhile, are now back on track in their pursuit of the title. They’ve now won three straight games for the first time since they capped a six-game win streak in their season opener against Cal Poly back in early January. 

There was a funk among the team and a few scuffs led to the Gauchos dropping three straight games just after that dominant display over the Mustangs. 

They’re looking organized and disciplined, led by big man Sow and a sizzling cast around him, just in time for a Thursday night match against UC Davis — a must-win game to solidify that the Gauchos are, indeed, not pretenders.

UCSB will hit the road for a 7 p.m. match against UC Davis at the Pavilion.